Low-back pain is one of the top 5 reasons for doctor visits. Additionally, every year 5 out of 10 working adults report suffering from back pain. How can safety managers make sure all workers don’t become part of these sobering statistics? While there’s no one way or silver bullet when it comes to preventing or lowering the risk of low-back injuries during work but there are different methods that you can implement and combine to help. Here we describe some of the best ways to avoid the most common causes for low-back injuries on the worksite.
- Implement an Ergonomics Program
We’ve already described some of the benefits of Human Factors & Ergonomics (HF&E) in a previous blog, and the evaluation of how the back might be affected in any role should be a part of that same process. As noted in that same blog, successful ergonomics program will begin with the assessment of the specific needs for your facility. This done through an ergonomics hazard identification and risk assessment process which is then used to help identify the areas to focus and target when it comes time to implement items 2, 3 & 4 on this list. All programs will differ from one facility to another but most will focus on a combination of the other items discussed below.
- Modify Tools/Equipment
One simple way to manage low back pain injuries is to change or modify tools, equipment or machinery in order to reduce the physical demands of the job. You can also supplement by using assistive gadgets to handle materials instead. These devices can include (but are not limited to) cranes, forklifts or conveyor belts.
- Modify Work-Practices
Adjusting the way some tasks are performed can go a long way in helping to reduce the frequency and duration of exposure to risk. A good example is to introduce different manual techniques that alleviate the total amount of force required to accomplish a specific duty. Another way to modify work-practices is to reposition work station components or to rearrange the work station to eliminate the tendency to bend or twist while carrying or supporting a load. For example, moving a pallet several feet away from the product discharge point may prevent a worker from lifting and twisting at the waist because the pallet is now out of reach and requires the worker to walk two or three steps to reach it.
- Organizational Modifications
Management teams can also make alterations to multiple administrative aspects of any role. Some instances of this involve job rotation or instituting the practice of pre-shift warm-ups and stretching.
Most, if not all, workers would prefer to avoid causing their own low-back pain injuries. One way to help foster this mentality is to provide them with available trainings on early-warnings signs, proper lifting techniques, and any other facts they should be aware of to recognize potential risk factors in their areas. OSHA provides a great resource library that is available for free online.
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Lastly, part of any good ergonomics program is the sustained use of PPE such as lumbar back supports. These items help to maintain the natural curvature of the spine which is an essential part of protecting a healthy back. Another popular item used in facilities around the world is an elastic back brace. While there is some controversy over the protective aspects of back braces, when used in conjunction with a fully developed and implemented ergonomics program they can be made available to trained workers who prefer to incorporate them into their safety routine.
With the proper planning, training and tools any facility can get create an environment that enables workers to avoid low-back pain injuries. Hopefully this list will help you in establishing the foundation for that particular type of work environment. If you are unsure of how to go about assessing your facility, or just need an expert opinion, contact your local ORR Safety account manager. Our safety experts are fully trained and can help customize your safety solutions.